A not-for-profit organization founded in 1993 for the publication
of materials on the history and theory of alcoholism treatment and the
moral and spiritual dimensions of recovery
Alcoholics Anonymous History and Archives
A.A. Historical Materials
The famous lines at the beginning of the Big Book:
"We landed in England. I visited Winchester Cathedral.
Much moved, I wandered outside. My attention was
caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone:
'Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer ....'
Ominous warning -- which I failed to heed."
Frequently Asked Questions
Where did the Herbert Spencer quote in the Big Book come from, the one given at the end of Appendix II on Spiritual Experience? Michael StGeorge, in his classic article "The Survival of a Fitting Quotation," shows that it was actually taken not from Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), but from an earlier author, William Paley (1743-1805).
Winchester Cathedral, where Bill W. had his profound experience of the feeling of the
divine presence in 1918. And then he turned his back on it and walked away, until the end of
1934, when his drinking had destroyed his life, and he was forced to reach out once more to
that strange power he had felt back then, when it had seemed to fill the ancient cathedral.
A.A. History Lovers
The leading international webgroup for the study
of Alcoholics Anonymous history and archives
Glenn F. Chesnut, The History of the AA History Lovers, gives a detailed account of the early days of this webgroup under its first two moderators, Nancy Moyer Olson and Glenn Chesnut, and the principles by which the group was guided. This story is interwoven in a variety of ways with the development of AA archival and historical endeavors, and with the development of AA itself, at the turn of the twenty-first century.
The collected messages of the AAHistoryLovers forms one of the largest single bodies of good AA historical material gathered in one place, an incredible accomplishment carried out by a number of the world's best AA historians. For the sake of future generations, all the messages from the group's first eleven years have now been put into computer files which can be either downloaded or read online. They are provided here in the form of Microsoft Word files (DOCX), text files (TXT), and Microsoft Access database files (MDB).
Jim Burwell, famous early AA atheist
Atheism, Moral Psychology,
and the Rejection of a Personal God
in Early Alcoholics Anonymous
Click here for a collection of articles, entitled Atheism, Moral Psychology, and the Rejection of a Personal God in Early Alcoholics Anonymous, on early AA figures who considered themselves to be atheists or agnostics, or who stressed the psychological aspects of the program far more strongly than the spiritual aspects, or who regarded the supreme principle of the universe as an impersonal absolute rather than a personal God.
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878–1969),
famous Protestant Liberal pastor in New
York and a strong supporter of AA.
Time Magazine cover Oct. 6, 1930
articles by Glenn F. Chesnut
Classical Protestant Liberalism and Early A.A. Glenn F. Chesnut on the different major religious groups in twentieth century America and their relationship to the early A.A. movement.
Classical Protestant liberalism and its meditational book The Upper Room, the Fundamentalist reaction, Reform Judaism vs. Orthodox Judaism, Protestant Neo-Orthodoxy (Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr), Ernest Kurtz and the second generation of A.A. thinkers, atheistic and Christian versions of existentialism, the Oxford Group, New Thought, Roman Catholicism, and the Episcopalians (Anglicans).
Also includes accounts of the liberal vs. fundamentalist controversy in early twentieth-century Protestantism, the problems raised by the Oxford Group, and the way the Roman Catholics broadened and deepened the AA understanding of the fourth step. The Golden Age of AA expansion after Roman Catholics began flooding into AA -- between 1939 and 1949 the AA membership grew over 750 times larger, the biggest growth in all of AA history.
Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade)
Bill Wilson's Vision of the Light at Towns Hospital on December 14, 1934 Glenn F. Chesnut shows that it COULD NOT have been produced by taking belladonna. That drug belongs to the general group called the "hallucinogens," but it is classified as a deliriant, not a psychedelic or entheogen. That means it does not fill you with a sense of ecstacy, bliss, or being in contact with a good and loving God or divine reality. If given too large a dose, it throws you into a stumbling, delerious state; it contains the same poisonous alkaloids as datura, which was one of the drugs used in Haitian mythology for turning people into zombies.
Cleveland A.A.'s Four Absolutes, the Six Central Virtues of Minneapolis A.A. (The Little Red Book), the Six Major Virtues (and the other virtues and vices) in the Detroit/Washington D.C. Pamphlet, the Seven Deadly Sins in Bill Wilson's Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and the Seven Virtues and Seven Vices in the classical western tradition (the pagan Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle and the medieval European spiritual writers of the Catholic and Orthodox tradition).
Psychological vs. Spiritual Interpretations of A.A. by Glenn F. Chesnut. Genuine atheism was not truly a major issue in early A.A. The real split, if there was going to be tension and divisiveness, was between those who made heavy use of traditional religious language in talking about the A.A. program, and those who preferred to explain the program almost exclusively in terms of psychological concepts. The split in early A.A. in northern Indiana between groups led by Ken M. and Harry S. as a typical example. Sgt. Bill S. as the most articulate spokesman for that important group of good old-timers who were not atheists, and were not hostile to God and using spiritual language, but who themselves preferred to explain the program in largely psychological terms.
Writing Local A.A. History: Stories as the Vessels of Wisdom and Grace A talk given by Glenn C. (South Bend, Indiana) at the History & Archives Gathering at Lebanon, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, June 24, 2006.
The Self-Hate Syndrome:
the equally destructive opposite to the
path of Grandiosity and Arrogance
In describing the Twelve Steps, and particularly in analyzing the character defects of the Fourth Step, there are two contrasting perspectives that are taken by different groups of spiritual masters. Guides of one type put their greatest stress on the necessity of dealing with the negative and destructive role of resentment, pride, grandiosity, arrogance and explosions of uncontrolled anger and rage. Bill Wilson wrote almost exclusively this way in the Big Book, and also in most of the chapters in the book on the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. But when he was talking at a more theoretical level he frequently acknowledged that there were numerous people who went down a path to self-destruction that led in the completely opposite direction.
Good sponsors in all the twelve step programs have long been fully aware of the dangers of the Self-Hate Syndrome (by whatever name they have called it), and have advised many of the people whom they sponsor to write out and meditate on lists of their good attributes, along with other strategies for increasing their sense of competence and self-esteem. But for many years, almost nothing was written about this issue in twelve step literature.
Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go, one of the
great classics from the third generation of twelve-step authors
The first major breakthrough came with the publication of a series of books by Melody Beattie. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself (1987) began popularizing the term "codependency" to describe one major aspect of the Self-Hate Syndrome. In The Language of Letting Go (1990), Beattie wrote a beautiful and extremely effective meditational book -- one which I think is destined to become of the the real classics of the twelve-step movement -- which deals with not only codependency issues but also many of the other aspects of the Self-Hate Syndrome.
The Slough of Despond
SUE C. (SOUTH BEND, IN) A short but extremely thorough and comprehensive description of the Self-Hate Syndrome and how to use the Fourth Step to heal it, was written a few years back by an Al-Anon -- Sue C. of South Bend, Indiana. This is now being made available online for the first time: Escaping the Bog of Self-Loathing: Learning how to love ourselves again, using the Fourth Step to heal our shame, guilt, co-dependence, and depression.
DANTE'S SWAMP OF DEPRESSION Bill W's metaphor of the Bog of Self-Loathing may ultimately have been derived from a classical source. See Glenn F. Chesnut, Dante’s Swamp of Depression, a commentary on Dante's Inferno, Canto 7, which describes the river Styx and the Fifth Circle of Hell, where those are sent who are damned by their anger or depression.
The Tools of Recovery
The Seven A.A. Tools of Recovery list the fundamental things beginners have to know and do in order to get sober and stay sober. They were designed to be read at the beginning of A.A. meetings to keep us continually reminded of these fundamentals.
Early A.A. Groups
History of the Chicago Group from Don B., Past Delegate from Chicago. History of Chicago area A.A. from the first group meeting on September 20, 1939 in Earl Treat's apartment in Evanston, down to the early 1970's.
AA's First Meeting on the West Coast: November 21, 1939 in San Francisco in the kitchen of Mrs. Gordon Oram's boarding house at 51 Potomac Street. Prepared by the CNCA Archives Committee in September 1984.
AA's First Meeting in Louisiana: a recently discovered document shows that a group was started in Anglola prison in 1942, a year before A.A. got started in New Orleans.
EARLY BRITISH A.A. In March 1947 American AA member Grace O., visiting London with her husband, the writer Fulton Oursler, convened a meeting for eight people in her room at the Dorchester hotel in London, the first recorded AA meeting in Britain.
Jack Alexander: postings about him from the AAHistoryLovers, April 2, 2002 – March 18, 2010. His article about A.A. in the March 1, 1941 Saturday Evening Post magazine helped bring knowledge of the new Alcoholics Anonymous program to people all over the United States.